Last updated on August 17, 2020

No Escape MTG card art by G-host Lee

No Escape | Illustration by G-host Lee

We’ve talked about quite a few different formats in Magic before, from Brawl to Historic and more. And while MTG Arena only has a limited number of options to choose from, paper Magic pretty much has the pick of the litter. While not every conceivable format is as supported as some others with sponsored tournaments and official events, if you’ve got the cards, the friends, and a solid surface, you can play really any way you want to.

That being said, there’s something to playing a supported format with clearly defined rules and guidelines on how to play, how to build your deck, and what you can and can’t do. Today we’re going to be talking about one format that borrows its appeal from a prince: Pauper. If you’re looking for a new format to get absorbed into but don’t have a ton of money to sink into buying the best, most expensive rare and mythic rare cards, then this format is for you!

Pauper Rules and Regulations

This format is pretty simple, in a lot of different ways. It doesn’t concern itself with specifics or restrict your card pool with legal and non-legal sets. That’s all much too limiting, in this format’s eyes.

Pauper does one thing, and it does it very well. You can probably guess by its name that it has something to do with card value, and you’re definitely on the right track with that thinking. This format has had a bit of a rough ride, though, as Wizards hadn’t released official rulings or a ban list for the paper format until June 2019.

Banishment Decree MTG card art by James Ryman

Banishment Decree | Illustration by James Ryman

Before that, Pauper had been an MTG Online-focused format, which was where it was born. Online also has Standard Pauper, which is a different format that restricts cards to the current Standard-legal card pool, but that’s neither here nor there. Let’s dive in to at what this format’s all about, shall we?

The Basics: Legal Cards and Deck Building

Pauper is a constructed format, with the same deck building rules as most other constructed formats: minimum 60-card deck with no maximum size (can you shuffle it in your hands, though?), a 15-card sideboard if it’s needed, and only four copies of individual cards except for basic lands.

What makes Pauper so special, then? Well, we’ll tell you: only cards that have been printed with the common rarity in a Magic set or product are legal. That’s right, none of that rare or mythic rare nonsense in this format, no sir/ma’am. We like our cards like we like our paupers: common and plentiful, thank you very much.

Common Iguana MTG card art by Brynn Metheney

Common Iguana | Illustration by Brynn Metheney

This does mean, though, that if a card was ever printed as a common, then it’s legal. Even if it was printed as an uncommon, a rare, or—gods forbid—a mythic rare (pardon me as I hold back my disgust) in another set or product.

Take Wizards’ example of this: Counterspell. It was printed as an uncommon in Masters Edition II in 2008 but had a common rarity in its appearance in the Seventh Edition Core Set way back in 2001. Because of its first printing, this card gets a pass and is legal in Pauper. Either version can be used, by the way, as much as it pains me to allow an uncommon card to grace the fields of this format.

And… that’s about all there is to it. Gameplay is the same, deck building is the same, it’s just the legality of common-only cards that you need to keep in mind. It’s pretty straight-forward, really. So, with that, let’s move on to the cards that you can’t use.

Banned Cards

Since Wizards officially started supporting this format in mid-2019, we’ve got an official ban list. Hooray! Here are the handful of cards that are banned in Pauper, their common-ness be damned:

The Popularity of Pauper

The pull to the Pauper format is simple. As we mentioned above, it allows you to play Magic without breaking the bank, so to speak. By restricting legal cards to only those that have been printed as common, it makes it much easier to get your hands on cards to play. It also means that your opponent won’t have any advantages if they’re able to spend countless amounts of money on the best and rarest cards, because those cards can’t be played in this format.

Icatian Moneychanger MTG card art by Drew Tucker

Icatian Moneychanger | Illustration by Drew Tucker

I’d say it’s a bit of an equalizer, and probably the best format to learn the ropes of Magic. If you’re a new player, you’re not going to be going up against any crazy mythic rares that you couldn’t even dream getting your hands on or borderline game-breaking cards that aren’t banned for whatever reason. It also means that you’re going to have to get creative in building decks with lots of synergy (and perhaps some unique win conditions).

This is also the only format that cares about rarity, and that’s pretty cool. It’s a unique identifier of the format, and something that no other format can say that they do.

Another fun thing: because Pauper’s ruleset is basically just “commons only, constructed format”, it can easily be combined with pretty much any other constructed format. Like the current sets in Standard? Go for that! What about the broad but still limited range of Modern? No problem! Mix and match as much as your little common-loving heart desires.

The History of Pauper

But what about how this all came about? We mentioned already a bit of the origins of Pauper and some of the changes it has gone through, but I know you want more. Don’t worry, I want more too. This format has gone through the ringer, in a sense, and it wouldn’t do it justice to just ignore that. Hold on to your hats, my friend, as we take a look at both Paper and MTG Arena Pauper as it stands today.

Stand Firm MTG card art by Matt Cavotta

Stand Firm | Illustration by Matt Cavotta

Paper Pauper

So, like we already said, Pauper was originally developed as an MTG Online-only game format. It was played in paper Magic on occasion as well but, before it was officially supported, it was… somewhat of a mess. With no official ban list or rules set, playing Pauper at your local LGS was a free-for-all. Unless you lived in Italy, for some reason. They just do it better over there, I guess.

But then June 2019 came, and Wizards stepped up! They announced that Pauper would now be an officially supported format, with a couple of very welcome changes to be made. They added the format to their website, updated Gatherer to search by the Pauper format, and allowed sanctioned Pauper events at LGS’ and larger tournaments.

Tournament Grounds MTG card art by Cristi Balanescu

Tournament Grounds | Illustration by Cristi Balanescu

Probably most excitingly, though, was the expansion of card legality to include any common card from any Magic set or product. You see, before this point, the official rules for Pauper were specific to MTG Online, where not every single card and reprint had been released. So, some cards (like Sinkhole) that had been printed as a common in a paper set or product weren’t legal, since they had never been common in MTG Online.

Wizards also added Hymn to Tourach, the aforementioned Sinkhole (sorry to get your hopes up), and High Tide to the format’s ban list.

MTG Arena Pauper

It might surprise you to know that there have actually been some Pauper events hosted on MTG Arena. But, well… there’s a bit of a twist.

Because MTGA only has sets starting from Ixalan, it can’t really have a true Pauper event. A whole heck of a lot of the cards just don’t exist on the client, and so they can’t be used. BUT! Because of 2019’s rotation with the release of Throne of Eldraine, there are two versions that MTGA can use: Historic Pauper and Standard Pauper.

Thraben Standard Bearer MTG card art by Volkan Baga

Thraben Standard Bearer | Illustration by Volkan Baga

Also, all of MTG Arena’s Pauper events banned Persistent Petitioners, as it was causing a bit of a kerfuffle since you can have any number of them in your deck (per the cards rules text). It may be note worthy to point out that although it was banned in MTGA’s Pauper events, Persistent Petitioners has not made it onto the format’s official ban list.

Beyond that and the limited card pool available to players, the rest of the rules were the same. So hold onto those rare and mythic Wildcards.

The first of the three events came as part of a series called “Chronicles,” following the War of the Spark set story: II: No Escape – Pauper. This was Standard Pauper, using the Standard sets at the time: Guilds of Ravnica, Ravnica Allegiance, War of the Spark, Core Set 2020, and Throne of Eldraine.

Starting on May 31 and going on to June 7 of 2019, this free event had a whopping 15 win maximum with no losses counted. Its rewards saw gold along with stained glass card styles every 5 wins. Kasmina, Enigmatic Mentor was the first at 5 wins, followed by Angrath, Captain of Chaos at 10, and then finally at 15 wins you got Vivien, Champion of the Wilds.

Chronicles II MTG Arena Pauper event

Historic Pauper hitched a ride on MTG Arena’s unique Historic format to use cards that have been rotated out from Standard on the client. This included Ixalan, Rivals of Ixalan, Dominaria, and Core Set 2019. The event went from November 28 to December 1 of 2019 with an entry fee of 500 gold or 100 gems. With a max wins / losses count of 4 / 2, the rewards of 600 gold and 3 Historic cards (at least 1 rare) at 4 wins weren’t half bad.

Historic MTG Arena Pauper event

Next up is Holiday Pauper, which jumped in at the end of the year and just wrapped up in the beginning of January. This was another Standard Pauper though it came in after Standard Rotation 2019, using commons from Guilds of Ravnica to Throne of Eldraine. Going from December 24, 2019 to January 4, 2020, this event had no entry fee and a 5 / 2 max wins / losses ratio. The rewards for maxing out included either a full art Llanowar Elves for between 1 and 4 wins or alternate art Firemind’s Research at 5 wins.

Holiday MTG Arena Pauper event

There’s still no word so far on any further Pauper events, though, so we’ll just have to wait and see what Wizards has in store for us this year. Keep an eye on our events calendar to stay up-to-date on all MTG Arena events and be sure that you’re ready the next time a Pauper extravaganza comes our way.

Pauper Decks

When it comes to Pauper decks, things can get very interesting. Since all the heavy hitters that players usually covet in rares and mythic rares are out of the picture, you’re going to find some creative combinations.

Before we go gallivanting off into the sunset talking about deck builds, though, we’ve got a little something for you. If you’re looking to make your own deck from scratch and just want a bit of inspiration, this reddit user has compiled a list of 64 deck archetypes that they’ve made for Pauper, sorted by color. It’s quite the collection with a few types that we’ll be dropping a deck list for in just a couple seconds. So, if you want to take a crack at paper Pauper decks for yourself but don’t know where to start, there are 64 directions for you to take!

First Up: Tron

Ghostly Flicker MTG card art by Raymond Swanland

Ghostly Flicker | Illustration by Raymond Swanland

All right, now for the actual decks. Coming in hot at the top of the list, we’ve got Tron. It tops the charts pretty much anywhere you look, with 11.22% of meta over on MTGgoldfish and 10.99% on MTGdecks. With all five colors gracing this deck, you’ll find lots of mana fixing and fetching in here, like Prophetic Prism and Expedition Map.

Though there are lots of different decks, you’ll see only slight variation with the same card combos popping up again and again. Think Ephemerate targeting Mulldrifter to bulk up your hand or Stonehorn Dignitary to mess up your opponent’s plans.

Taking Silver: Boros Flashback/Aggro

Battle Screech (Judgement) MTG card art by Randy Gallegos

Battle Screech (Judgement) | Illustration by Randy Gallegos

Next up is Boros Flashback, coming in with 7.04% of meta. This deck uses the Flashback ability, which allows you to cast cards with Flashback a second time from your graveyard for the ability’s cost, like Prismatic Strands and Faithless Looting. A neat little deck that’s got an abundance of cheap creatures and spells, this could also be considered Boros Aggro.

Tied for Third: Stompy and Affinity

The last two decks we’re going to cover are Stompy and Affinity, which are super close with 6.19% and 6.16% of meta respectively.

Stompy is a staple of green, with spells that look to boost your cheap and relatively weak creatures with +1/+1 counters like Hunger of the Howlpack.

Affinity, on its end, is the obvious choice for colorless artifact decks, hinging on lots of artifacts on the board to boost cards like Galvanic Blast or to help you cast more powerful spells sooner like Gearseeker Serpent.

If you’re looking for some interesting Pauper content, we’ve got you covered! Here’s the first of a week-long series of Pauper tournaments using some of the decks that we’ve mentioned, starting off with Affinity:

MTG Arena Options

Now, unfortunately, the decks we mentioned above aren’t viable on MTG Arena, at least not the deck lists linked (though I’m sure you could whip something up within those archetypes). Most of the cards used are from sets that just don’t feature on MTGA (for now), so you’re basically back where you started.

We did manage to wrangle up some options for you, though, so that all you Arena-goers aren’t left out:

MTGArena.Pro has quite a few deck lists for you to choose from, though only a handful in the last month or so. There are also some Historic Pauper decks there, if that tickles your fancy. If you’re looking to be competitive in the next event, though, there are some decks with very decent win rates for you to take a look at.

The next thing we have to offer you is this article from cardmarket, which features 8 different decks for you to peruse and see what piques your interest. It is getting a bit old, however, so you’re either looking at Historic Pauper or some upkeep for you to do.

Paying Up to the Pauper

Festive Funeral MTG card art by Zack Stella

Festive Funeral | Illustration by Zack Stella

That about wraps us up on this commoner’s format. While it may have started off as an MTG Online exclusive, it managed to get its head above water with official support from WotC—maybe with a few bumps in the road, sure, but bruised and alive is still better than shiny and new but dead.

We don’t have anything on the horizon for MTG Arena Pauper at the moment but, considering the fact that we wrapped up a holiday event featuring the format just over a month ago, we’d say Wizards hasn’t forgotten about it just yet. And the format is one that players love and pushed for, which is exactly why we have it now. It may not be the next big thing, but we’d say it’s here to stay.

For now, we humbly thank you for your time and hope you learned something or at least got a little giggle out of our antics here. What are you most looking forward to with this common format? Let us know in the comments down below!

Dispel | Illustration by Chase Stone

Dispel | Illustration by Chase Stone

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